State exams to have wider question choice in 2021 due to closures

Move aims to lessen effect of missed classes on Junior and Leaving Cert candidates

“The idea is that a student who has completed, say, 75-80 per cent of the course will still be able to complete the exam without losing out.”

“The idea is that a student who has completed, say, 75-80 per cent of the course will still be able to complete the exam without losing out.”


Leaving Certificate and Junior Certificate candidates are to be given greater choice in next year’s State exam papers to help ease pressure on students who have lost out on months of school.

It means that students completing the English exam, for example, are likely to have a much wider selection of poets and fewer mandatory questions.

Well-placed sources say all Leaving Cert and Junior Cert exam subjects are being revised to ensure students who do not complete the full curriculum in their subjects will not be penalised in the exams.

“The idea is that a student who has completed, say, 75-80 per cent of the course, will still be able to complete the exam without losing out,” said one source.

“It means there will be a greater focus on individual sections of the curriculum in questions and less emphasis on combining learning from different areas, or asking students to compare and contrast from different parts of the course.”

The approach is seen by policymakers as the fairest solution, on the basis that cutting out sections from the curriculum might disadvantage students who have already completed those areas of study.

Officials from the State Examinations Commission and the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, along with Department of Education officials, are understood to be finalising a guidance document for teachers and students.

This is likely to be released in time for the start of the new school year.

In addition, plans are being examined to fast-track the release of information for Leaving Cert students for projects in subjects such as history, geography, construction studies, and design and communication graphics.

In these cases, sources say students will be given earlier access to briefs for individual projects so candidates will be able to complete them sooner.

This move is also aimed at easing pressure on students by ensuring they have more time to prepare for the written exams.

Similarly, discussions are also understood to be taking place on how practical skills and demonstrations – which form part of subjects such as music and home economics – will take place.

Physical-distancing requirements and other safety measures are understood to be posing challenges to the assessment aspects of these subjects.

Junior Cycle students going into third year, meanwhile, will be required to complete just a single classroom-based assessment rather than two. This is aimed at reducing the workload on students and teachers.

There will also be changes to transition year, with less emphasis on work experience and school trips and a greater emphasis on timetabled classes.

For example, students entering transition year may be allocated additional time to catch up on sections of the Junior Cycle curriculum they have missed, with an emphasis on literacy and numeracy skills.

In addition, work experience will be limited to cases where students can complete it safely in accordance with public health advice and social distancing requirements. Where this is not possible, they will be advised to attend timetabled classes.

Instead of school trips, schools will be advised to plan for alternative school-based or online activities to replace co-curricular and extracurricular programmes.

The Irish Second Level Students’ Union said it hoped that sufficiently generous measures were taken to ease pressure on students.

“These students have missed class time since March and have had varying levels of education,” said union president Reuben Murray.

“Some had had great levels of tuition online; some got none. We’re still in the middle of a pandemic. We need flexible solutions and more choice in exams to ease the stress and anxiety facing students.”